Nadia Foo Kune in the thin film solar laboratory

Renewable energy devices’ appearance is important too, says Nadia Foo Kune ’13. 

Both her parents are architects, so it’s probably not surprising that Nadia Foo Kune ’13 (Floréal, Mauritius) signed up for an architecture internship this year. She spent fall semester working at the Minneapolis offices of Perkins+Will, a nationally known firm and one of the top five green design firms in the U.S.

Because Foo Kune—an environmental studies and physics major—wanted to incorporate her academic interests into this experience, she researched the aesthetic aspects of renewable energy. In other words, solar panels and wind turbines may be great for the environment but they can be pretty ugly too. Do people care? 

Using a software program called RET Screen, she modified the slope and orientation of solar panels and the position and size of wind turbines to see how efficiency was affected by improving aesthetics. Then she surveyed a group of Mac students to see which versions they preferred. 

“Even though Mac students strongly support renewable energy, when they focused on aesthetics they didn’t like solar panels sticking out of buildings in an obvious and ugly way,” says Foo Kune. 

Her adviser at Perkins+Will was Doug Pierce, who leads the firm’s sustainability efforts. She met him when he spoke at a weekly talk put on by the Environmental Studies Department.  

Although still unsure about what work she will pursue post-college, Foo Kune says architecture is definitely an option. But then so is physics: She spent last summer in the lab of Professor Jim Doyle, exploring the deposition of zinc oxide on thin film solar cells. Doyle calls her “a very good research student, highly engaged in the work, with very good critical thinking skills.”

Foo Kune completed both internships as well as her Mac studies in what amounts to her third language: She grew up speaking French and Mauritian Creole in Mauritius, an island nation just east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.  

Surprisingly for a person who hails from such a tiny country, Foo Kune is one of four members of her family to attend Macalester. Two older cousins preceded her and her younger brother, Rhyan Foo Kune ’15, is a first-year student at the college.

January 3 2012

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